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SUMO: 2018 Natsu Basho (Day 10)

It’s Day 10 of the Natsu Basho, and for once this tournament, there have been no changes on the top end of the standings. Sekiwake Tochinoshin is still undefeated, and still alone atop the leaderboard, followed by a trio of rikishi who have secured kachi-koshi [majority of wins] with 8–1 records—yokozuna Hakuho, yokozuna Kakuryu, and M11 Chiyonokuni.

With ozeki Goeido having gone kyujo [absent due to injury] (ostensibly because of aggravating an ankle injury, but probably more just to save face), the only high-ranking opponents left on Tochinoshin’s schedule are the two yokozuna. He’s already had his matches against all the other sanyaku rikishi. And since the yokozuna bouts almost certainly won’t be scheduled until Friday and Saturday (because they’ll draw better TV viewing audiences then), Tochinoshin is going to have a relatively light schedule for the next few days. Today he faces M4 Chiyotairyu, and tomorrow M5 Kotoshogiku. As long as he stays focused, the chances are very good for him to reach 11–0 and make another point in his case for promotion to ozeki. 

Hakuho today will face komusubi Endo, who is returning after three days kyujo because of an elbow injury he suffered in his loss to fellow komusubi Mitakeumi. Meanwhile, Kakuryu will face Kotoshogiku. And sekiwake Ichinojo, having gotten a default win due to Goeido’s absence yesterday, will have M4 Shodai. The question is whether a walk-over win has helped Ichinojo shake his four-match losing streak and get back to the kind of sumo he was doing during the early part of the basho.

The dark horse Chiyonokuni still has a few days against opponents ranked near the bottom of the banzuke [ranking sheet] before he starts getting “rewarded” for his strong performance by being boosted up in the daily pairings to fight opponents in the upper Maegashira range. He’d better make what hay he can against opponents like the one he has today—M17 Nishikigi.

M17 Nishikigi (6–3) vs. M11 Chiyonokuni (8–1)—Chiyonokuni is still just one win behind the leader, so it’s best to keep an eye on him. Today he gets what may be the last of his low-level opponents (and certainly the lowest ranked man he’s going to face, as at M17 Nishikigi is on the very bottom rung of the Makuuchi Division). (2:45)
M7 Ryuden (1–8) vs. M9 Hokutofuji (4–5)—This isn’t a good match. Indeed, it shows one of the worst sides of sumo—the lack of modern injury protocol. There’s no blood or broken bones, but there’s for sure a concussion, the bout just rolls on. (6:45)
Komusubi Mitakeumi (6–3) vs. M5 Ikioi (7–2)—A spirited bout between two very good rikishi. Despite obviously still suffering from a nagging leg injury, Ikioi is doing well this basho. And Mitakeumi seems to have regained his mojo. (11:25)
Sekiwake Tochinoshin (9–0) vs. M4 Chiyotairyu (4–5)—Our yusho [tournament championship] race leader tries to keep his record perfect as it rolls into double digits. Can he keep his focus through Week 2 and into his bouts with the yokozuna? (12:10)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (8–1) vs. M5 Kotoshogiku (6–3)—Kotoshogiku again faces an opponent that he is very familiar with. These two have gone head to head forty-eight times in the past, and it’s been a tight competition—Kakuryu leads the series 26–22. (13:45)
Komusubi Endo (3–4–2) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (8–1)—Endo is back from three days being kyujo and immediately has to face Hakuho. Hakuho has to keep his winning streak alive if he wants a chance to win this basho in honor of his recently deceased father. (14:50)

SUMO: 2018 Natsu Basho (Day 9)

It’s Day 9 of the Natsu Basho, and as we begin Week 2 of the tournament sekiwake Tochinoshin remains undefeated and alone atop the leaderboard. He’s followed by three rikishi—yokozuna Hakuho, yokozuna Kakuryu, and M11 Chiyonokuni—who have just one loss.

Tochinoshin showed great power and skill in beating fellow sekiwake Ichinojo on Sunday. It was a match where two of sumo’s biggest, strongest rikishi went head-to-head in a classic power-sumo battle. Ichinojo seemed to have shaken off the malaise that had come over him in his three prior bouts, but in the end was out-matched by Tochinoshin on every level. This gave Tochinoshin his kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and keeps him on track for getting 11 or more victories in his bid to attain a promotion to ozeki. 

One bit of bad news for Tochinoshin is that as of today ozeki Goeido has gone kyujo [absent due to injury or illness]. The reason this is bas is that the factor in Tochinoshin’s potential promotion is that he prove that he belongs in the “champion” level by defeating one or more opponents that are currently there. But with yokozuna Kisenosato and ozeki Takayasu already kyujo, Goeido’s withdrawal leaves only two opponents for the sekiwake to prove himself against—the two active yokozuna.

That having been said, withdrawing really was the best move for Goeido to make. He started the tournament strong with three straight victories, but is now 3–5 after losing for the fifth straight day on Sunday. This would seem to be more than his usual lack of focus, and put him on an almost certain path to make-koshi [majority of losses], so the best way to save face was for him to go kyujo. This means that he’ll be kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] in July’s Nagoya Basho . . . but so will his fellow ozeki Takayasu, who has been absent from this tournament entirely. However, since Kyokai [Sumo Association] rules say that there must always be at least two ozeki, this may actually play to Tochinoshin’s advantage. (The Kyokai may want to hedge their bets against one or both of the current ozeki faltering in July.)

M14 Takekaze (4–4) vs. M11 Chiyonokuni (7–1)—As one of the three rikishi one win off the lead, it’s about time to start following Chiyonokuni’s exploits a little closer. Today, he squares off against the second=oldest rikishi in the top division (2:25)
Komusubi Mitakeumi (5–3) vs. M3 Yutakayama (0–8)—Mitakeumi is having a strong basho and needs just three more wins to secure his kachi-koshi. Yutakayama, on the other hand, has been fighting well, but each day finding himself on the wrong end of the gunbai [the war fan that the referee uses to point to the match winner] and is already make-koshi [majority of losses]. Sometimes that sort of adversity will bring out the lion in a rikishi. (9:55)
Sekiwake Tochinoshin (8–0) vs. M3 Daieisho (2–6)—Tochinoshin has his kachi-koshi and needs only one more win to reach 33 in the past three tournaments—technically enough to be considered for an ozeki promotion. Of course, the Kyokai has already told him that’s not enough, so he knows that he needs at least three more wins AND to prove his worthiness in his matches against the yokozuna. Still, he needs to remain focused and continue beating his lower-ranked opponents, like today’s Daieisho. (11:10)
M5 Kotoshogiku (6–2) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (7–1)—This will be the sixtieth time that these two have gone head to head in their long careers. Unfortunately for Kotoshogiku, Hakuho has won fifty-three of those prior meetings. And although Kotoshogiku did manage to win their last match, it was a fusensho [default win] the day that Hakuho withdrew from January’s Hatsu Basho.  (12:45)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (7–1) vs. M4 Shodai (6–2)—After a Day 4 slip, Kakuryu has quietly continued to win. He hasn’t been flashy or even dominant, but he has been relentless, and he may well be the man to beat in this tournament. He’s got strong motivation in that he is trying to win back-to-back yusho [tournament championships] for the first time in his career. (14:30)

SUMO: 2018 Natsu Basho Nakabi [Middle Day] (Day 8)

Holy cats! We’re at Nakabi [the middle day] already? How did Day 8 get here so quickly? It’s been a week of sumo that began with ALL the top rankers winning for the first few days, and all but one of them dropping one match, and most of them dropping losing twice or more by the time we reached the midpoint. Seikwake Tochinoshin is currently the only 7–0 rikishi, followed by the quartet of yokozuna Hakuho, yokozuna Kakuryu, M9 Daishomaru, and M11 Chiyonokuni at 6–1.

Tochinoshin, as you may know, is on the hunt for a promotion to ozeki. Because he started this run while still a maegashira-ranked rikishi (when he won the yusho [tournament championship] in January), he started the basho knowing that he needed to get at least 11 wins and would probably have to notch victories over at least one yokozuna or ozeki. Being undefeated at the midway point is a good start to that, but now he’s got to follow that up with a just-as-spectacular Week 2, beginning today with his match against his fellow sekiwake, Ichinojo.

Ichinojo started the tournament looking rejuvenated, perhaps even reborn. He was fighting with an energy, determination, and style that he’s NEVER shown in the past, and that got him off to a 4–0 start. However, for the past three days he’s looked like the Ichinojo of old—plodding, uninspired, and clueless. If he can find the spirit he had on Days 1 through 4, the match against Tochinoshin should be one of the most exciting of the tournament. If he continues to fight the way he has on Days 5 through 7, he doesn’t stand a chance.

Hakuho bounced back from his surprise Friday loss to M2 Abi by completely dominating M4 Chiyotairyu yesterday. Some of my friends think that Hakuho is going to have three or four “off days” like Friday over the course of this basho, I think that was the only one he’ll give. That doesn’t mean he won’t lose again, but I don’t think he’ll give up another kinboshi [gold star award for a maegashira-ranked rikishi beating a yokozuna]. Of course, he only has two or three of those left this tournament (unless more sanyaku rikishi start going kyujo [absent due to injury]).

Ozeki Goeido, meanwhile, has gone completely in the tank and went from a 3–0 start to coming into today’s match with a 3–4 record. He has looked absolutely miserable the past few days—unfocused, overconfident, and unaware of what is happening around him in the dohyo. As much as I root against the guy because of his lackluster performance, he’s definitely better than this, and I want him to get his head back in the game. 

I haven’t said much about yokozuna Kakuryu during this week, mostly because he was the first of the top-rankers to notch a loss, and then he just hasn’t done anything either spectacularly good or spectacularly bad since—he’s just quietly gone back to winning his matches in workmanlike fashion. Still, that puts him up near the top of the leaderboard, so I’m probably not showing him enough respect. That having been said, I also expect him to hang another loss on his record somewhere in the next couple of days and drop out of immediate yusho contention. I’m not rooting for that outcome, mind you, I’m just expecting it.

M8 Yoshikaze (4–3) vs. M10 Takakeisho (2–5)—A big, slapity slapity slap-fest that begins and ends with a head-butt. (4:00)
M10 Okinoumi (4–3) vs. M7 Chiyomaru (2–5)—Sometimes it pays just to hang in there as long as you can and hope you get an opening. (5:35)
Sekiwake Tochinoshin (7–0) vs. sekiwake Ichinojo (4–3)—It may come with three more matches left to fight, but THIS is the bout that everyone is most looking forward to. Two of sumo’s biggest and most powerful rikishi going head-to-head! The two sekiwake have both had transformative tournament’s so far, and each wants to be seen as the best at sumo’s third-highest rank. Tochinoshin, is on a march toward a promotion to ozeki, and in order to get it he has to show his merit against the toughest opponents. Ichinojo is coming off a three-day losing streak and wants to show that the performance he put in at the tournament’s start was not just a fluke.  (11:50)

SUMO: 2018 Natsu Basho (Day 7)

We’ve reached Day 7 and the middle weekend of the Natsu Basho, and suddenly things are quite different. After several surprises yesterday, we find sekiwake Tochinoshin alone atop the leaderboard as the last still-undefeated rikishi. Both yokozuna Hakuho and M4 Shodai suffered upset defeats on Friday, sending them down into six-man group of 5–1 rikishi nipping at the big Georgian’s heels.

Hakuho’s loss was even more surprising in that it was against M2 Abi, whom he was facing for the first time. Hakuho is renowned for almost never losing his first match to any new rikishi, and also for very rarely giving away kinboshi [gold star prize for a Makuuchi rikishi who beats a yokozuna]. However, despite the fact that sumo pontiffs have been bemoaning the fact that Abi has only one style of attack, and that everyone has figured it out, Hakuho seemed completely unprepared for the long-armed pushing/thrusting attack and was very quickly shoved back and out of the ring.

Also having bad days yesterday were sekiwake Ichinojo (who lost his second match of the tournament) and ozeki Goeido (who lost his third). I’ve spent a lot of time so far this week talking about how much improved Ichinojo has performed, but on Friday he looked just like is old self—completely lackluster, sluggish, and without a plan other than being heavier than his opponent—while M1 Tamawashi was clearly focused and determined to turn around what so far has been a disappointing basho. Meanwhile, Goeido seemed like he was already thinking about his weekend opponents and forgot that he had to actually fight against M4 Chiyotairyu. The ozeki got slapped around so hard that he literally came off his feet.

On the better side, Tochinoshin remembered to bring his grit and determination to Friday’s bout. It’s a good thing, too, because M3 Yutakayama had an upset victory on his mind. He gave the sekiwake a good run for his money, but in the end Tochinoshin was a little too quick and little too clever for him, turning the tables with a throw at the ring’s edge. And things get even better for him today. Tochinoshin was scheduled to fight komusubi Endo in what was sure to be one of the best matches of the day. Unfortunately, Endo injured his right bicep and is now kyujo [absent due to injury] giving Tochinoshin a fusensho [victory by default].

M14 Sadanoumi (4–2) vs. M17 Nishikigi (3–3)—A couple of low-ranked rikishi giving it their all. The really neat thing about this match is the winning maneuver. (1:20)
M12 Arawashi (1–5) vs. M16 Aminishiki (1–5)—Two even lower-ranked rikishi who are renowned for their clever sumo. There’s a lot of gamesmanship going on in the ring, and it’s a lot of fun to watch. (2:00)
M2 Shohozan (1–5) vs. sekiwake Ichinojo (4–2)—In the first four days of the tournament, Ichinojo looked like a new man, but the last couple of days he’s fallen back on old habits. Can he turn that around against Shohozan, who’s having an unimpressive basho AND is about half Ichinojo’s size and weight? (10:35)

SUMO: 2018 Natsu Basho (Day 6)

It’s Day 6 of the Natsu Basho, and we’re heading into the middle weekend with just three undefeated rikishi remaining—yokozuna Hakuho, sekiwake Tochinoshin, and M4 Shodai—with six 4–1 rikishi hot on their heels (led by yokozuna Kakuryu and sekiwake Ichinojo).

Tochinoshin continued his relentless march toward a possible ozeki promotion by making relatively quick work of M1 Kaisei (who is having a terrible basho so far at 0–5). Meanwhile, the other sekiwake, Ichinojo, suffered his first defeat of the tournament in a rip-roaring match against komusubi Endo. The good news for Ichinojo is that he continued to look strong and focused even in a loss, fighting back from the edge of the ring and very nearly throwing Endo on his head. It feels weird after so many tournaments spent disparaging they guy, but I’m very excited to see Ichinojo perform up to his potential and hope that he bounces back today.

Speaking of bouncing back, Kakuru straightened got his groove back as he beat M2 Abi, who put up a spectacular fight in his first-ever match against a yokozuna. Meanwhile, ozeki Goeido stopped his losing streak at two by overpowering M3 Yutakayama, whose record drops to a dismal 0–5. Komusubi Mitakeumi also got back in a winning way against M1 Tamawashi, but suffered a cut above his eye in the process. Hopefully it will a suture or two will keep it closed and prevent it from bothering him for the rest of the tournament.

It feels weird to not mention Hakuho in these daily updates, but the truth is that other than his close call against Mitakeumi on Day 2, the yokozuna has been in control and calmly going about his business. It’s just not “news” when Hakuho has a perfect record on Day 6. Maybe the biggest news is how strong he’s looking after being absent for nearly two full tournaments. But for someone with 40 yusho [tournament championships] and closing in on a thousand Makuuchi Division wins, it seems pretty much par for the course.

M15 Kyokutaisei (4–1) vs. M13 Aoiyama (2–3)—A spirited match between two big men. Kyokutaisei is doing very well so far in his debut tournament in the Makuuchi Division. Aoiyama came into the basho with a knee injury, and his performance has been understandably spotty because of it. However, today both rikishi definitely brought their A-game. (1:50)
M4 Shodai (5–0) vs. M1 Kaisei (0–5)—Both of these rikishi are looking very much like they did a year ago. Shodai is strong and confident, Kaisei is bringing his B-game more often than not. But we know that lurking in there somewhere is Kaisei-A, and that despite a very strong 2017, Shodai has been kind of a punching bag through most of 2018. If they both are on their game, this will be a barn burner. (8:15)
Sekiwake Tochinoshin (5–0) vs. M3 Yutakayama (0–5)—Tochinoshin continues to look almost unassailable, and Yutakayama hasn’t found his groove yet this basho.  (9:55)
M1 Tamawashi (1–4) vs. sekiwake Ichinojo (4–1)—Tamawashi has put in some very spirited matches this basho, but they’ve all been against sanyaku rikishi, and nothing seems to be falling his way. Ichinojo is the highest ranked opponent he has left to face (after that it’s komusubi Endo, and he’ll have run the gauntlet). In normal tournaments, I’d say that Tamawashi was pretty much Ichinojo’s equal, but given how the big Mongolian has been performing this week, I’m not sure that’s true anymore. (11:05)
M2 Abi (1–4) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (5–0)—Abi just had his first ever match against a yokozuna yesterday, and now it’s time for his second. Good luck, kid! (13:45)

SUMO: 2018 Natsu Basho (Day 5)

It’s Day 5 of the Natsu Basho, and we’re dealing with the fall-out of a couple more upsets in yesterday’s action. Yokozuna Kakuryu fell back into his backpedaling bad habit and let M2 Shohozan steal a win from him, knocking him off the leaderboard. In addition, ozeki Goeido fell back into his own bad habit of following one bad performance with another, giving him his second loss before the middle of Week 1. Meanwhile, yokozuna Hakuho and both sekiwake (Tochinoshin and Ichinojo) continued their strong performances and remain undefeated, along with M4 Shodai.

Tochinoshin looked like a real ozeki candidate, completely overpowering komusubi Mitakeumi and collecting his fourth win in just a few seconds. Ichinojo only took a little more time and effort to beat M3 Yutakayama and continue to make it seem like he’s finally serious about this sumo thing. Hakuho had it easiest of all as M1 Kaisei seemed to trip over his own feet after the tachi-ai [initial charge] and basically rolled himself out of the ring.

Now that we’ve had a few upsets, the pressure is going to start building as the tournament rolls toward the middle weekend. It’s still a wide open yusho [tournament championship] race, but a few of the likely contenders (in particular, Goeido) are on the verge of dropping themselves out of the hunt.

A Viewing Note: As you watch the matches, keep a weather-eye on the crowd behind the gyoji [referee]. There you’ll see a group known to many English-speaking fans as the “Pink Ladies.” They’re a cadre of Tokyo-based sumo enthusiasts who get tickets for one mid-week day during each tournament held at the Ryogoku Kokugikan and come dressed in bright pink dresses with matching bonnets. They’ve been doing this since before I started watching sumo in the early ‘90s, and they’ve become a beloved, if quirky, sumo tradition. This year it looks like there are only two of the Pink Ladies in attendance (I’ve seen as many as seven in years past).

M16 Aminishik (0–4) vs. M14 Takekaze (3–1)—The two oldest rikishi in the top division, Aminishiki (39) and Takekaze (38), square off for the thirty-sixth time in their long careers. So far, Takekaze leads the series 17–18, and don’t think that doesn’t matter to these wily veterans. It may not be the most genki [energetic] sumo of the day, but it may well be the cleverest. (0:15)
M11 Daiamami (3–1) vs. M11 Chiyonokuni (3–1)
—This in another one of those matches where two mid-level rikishi each just get it in their minds that NOTHING is going to stop them today, and we get treated to an incredibly tenacious bout. (3:05)
M6 Chiyoshoma (1–3) vs. M4 Shodai (4–0)—Could the confident, domineering Shodai who vaulted up the banzuke [ranking sheet] two years ago, and spent all of last year as a sanyaku rikishi, finally be back. He’s looking so strong so far this tournament, it’s easy to believe so. (8:05)
Komusubi Endo (2–2) vs. sekiwake Ichinojo (4–0)—We knew coming in that this was going to be one of the matches that the crowd was most excited for, but as it turns out, it’s also flat out the best match of the day. So good you’ll want to watch it twice! (10:16)
Sekiwake Tochinoshin (4–0) vs. M1 Kaisei (0–4)—Tochinoshin continues his assault on a promotion to ozeki, today against the towering Brazilian rikishi, Kaisei (who is struggling so far this basho). (12:25)

SUMO: 2018 Natsu Basho (Day 4)

It’s Day 4 of the Natsu Basho, and suddenly we have a relatively compact leaderboard. Only eight rikishi have managed to win all of their first three matches—yokozuna Hakuho, yokozuna Kakuryu, sekiwake Tochinoshin, sekiwake Ichinojo, M4 Shodai, M5 Ikioi, M10 Okinoumi, and M12 Asanoyama. Of course, it’s so early in the tournament that there are still thirteen rikishi just one win behind with 2–1 records.

After dancing out of trouble in his Monday match against komusubi Mitakeumi, on Tuesday Hakuho came out strong and literally blew M2 Shohozan out of the ring and off the dohyo. Meanwhile Kakuryu took only slightly more time to out-maneuver M1 Kaisei. So both yokozuna are so far looking unflappable.

The two sekiwake are also looking strong and confident. Tochinoshin had more trouble with his own feet after winning the match than he did with his actual opponent, M1 Tamawashi. And Ichinojo showed some real tenacity in his bout against M3 Daieisho, continuing to press the attack after being stymied in his first and second charges. In the past, he would have simply have gone into “leaning tower” mode, and probably would have ended up on the short end of the stick.

And, as I suggested in my commentary yesterday, when faced with strong competition in the form of komusbi Endo, ozeki Goeido showed us his feet of clay and suffered his first loss of the tournament. The big question now is whether he’ll dig deep and refocus himself today, or if he’ll go into one of his two-or-three-day funks and compound his problems with more upset losses. For his part, Endo has done himself a lot of good by stealing a win over a top-ranked opponent. If he can do that one more time, he’ll be in strong position to get a kachi-koshi [majority of wins] in his first tournament at sumo’s toughest rank.

M7 Ryuden (0–3) vs. M8 Yoshikaze (1–2)—Both of these rikishi have struggled in the first few days of the tournament, and it seems like they decided to take it out on each other. Worth watching twice. (5:30)
M5 Kotoshogiku (2–1) vs. M6 Chiyoshoma (1–2)—Kotoshogiku hasn’t really been worth talking about for a while. Although he was demoted from the rank of ozeki, as long as he held on near the top of the banzuke [ranking sheet] he was still facing the same top-level competition that, quite frankly, he is no longer a match for. Now that he’s fallen to the mid-maegashira ranks, though, he has a much better chance to use his size and experience to dominate the competition. The only problem is, if he DOES he’ll just get promoted back up to a level where he’s everybody’s punching bag again. (7:55)
M5 Ikioi (3–0) vs. M4 Shodai (3–0)—Two undefeated rikishi facing off. This is the kind of thing that often happens in the middle of Week 2, but we’re getting it today. Ikioi has looked strong so far, but word is that he’s still nursing a knee injury. Shodai, on the other hand, seems to have regained the calm, focused demeanor that helped him shoot up the banzuke last year. (9:30)
Sekiwake Tochinoshin (3–0) vs. komusubi Mitakeumi (2–1)—This will be Tochinoshin’s first big challenge. If he wants to get promoted to ozeki, he’s going to have to be just as dominant over the komusubi as he is against all the other rikishi ranked lower than he is. The problem is, Mitakeumi is no ordinary komusubi, he just finished holding on to the sekiwake ranking for five straight tournaments, and only barely missed out on keeping it again because of a Day 15 loss to ozeki Goeido in the Osaka Basho. (12:36)
M1 Tamawashi (0–3) vs. ozeki Goeido (2–1)—Goeido suffered his first loss yesterday to komusubi Endo. The big question today is whether Goeido, whom pundits have been saying looks fit enough to win the tournament, can get his focus back and return to a winning way . . . or if he’s gone into his habitual post-loss mope and will now lose two or three days in a row. Maybe the best thing to happen to Tamawashi’s tournament was for Goeido to have lost yesterday. It really increases his chance to change his own fortunes and pick up his first win. (14:00)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (3–0) vs. M2 Shohozan (0–3)—When Kakuryu and Shohozan meet, you can be pretty sure it’s going to be a big, stand-up slap-fest in the center of the ring. And twelve times in their thirteen meetings, Kakuryu’s superior size and strength, and the weight of his yokozuna rank, have nabbed him the win. Shohozan is coming off back to back to back losses to a yokozuna, an ozeki, and a sekiwake so he’s sure to be feisty. But it’s unlikely that “feisty” will be enough to carry the day. (14:35)

SUMO: 2018 Natsu Basho (Day 3)

Welcome to Day 3 of the Natsu Basho, where so far things are going very much according to plan. The sanyaku rikishi are all winning their early matches (except for the komusubi who are losing when facing yokozuna).

Hakuho had a bit of a scare yesterday, though, when komusubi Mitakeumi took control of their match with a slick move off the tachi-ai [initial charge]. Actually, the replay made it look to me more like Hakuho’s hand slipped while trying to grab his opponent’s mawashi [belt], but the result was the same. Still it gave us look at some of the reasons he has been and still is the best in the world. Hakuho reacted so fast that Mitakeumi couldn’t take advantage of his superior position. And then, as the match progressed, Hakuho showed that he isn’t just quick to move, he’s quick to stop, which allows him to control the distance between himself and his opponent better than anyone else I’ve ever seen. In this case, Hakuho putting on the breaks suddenly put him in back in control of the match, and he was then able to end it very quickly with one of his famous uwatenage [overarm throw] maneuvers.

Sekiwake Tochinoshin also looked very strong facing the young up and comer Abi. Although Abi had the size and strength to keep the big Georgian literally at arm’s reach, he couldn’t really do much more than that. And once Tochinoshin maneuvered his way close enough to grab the belt, the match was pretty much done.

Sekiwake Ichinojo, the heaviest man in the top division, continued to show his new winning style by overpowering M1 Kaisei, the second heaviest. Can Ichinojo REALLY have finally turned the corner and become a rikishi worth rooting for?

You may have noticed that we’re on Day 3 and I still haven’t said anything at all about ozeki Goeido. That’s because, despite the fact that some of the announcers are anxious to talk him up and say that he’s looking strong, so far he just looks like the same old Goeido to me. He wins the matches that come easily, and that definitely describes his first two. The question is how he’ll perform when an opponent actually puts up a fight, particularly an unexpected one. Will he dig deep and find the grit to come back and win, or will he roll over and get that “how did this happen to me?” look on his face? And then the even bigger question will be how he reacts the day after that. Will he knuckle down and get himself back on track, or will he mope for a day or two and compound one loss into three? Based on past performance, I think the latter option is most likely in both cases, and that makes me loathe to spend much time talking about him here in the early part of the tournament. Sure, Goeido has the skill and power to be a contender, he’s shown that in small flashes over the past couple of years. Unfortunately, he more frequently shows that he lacks the temperament to make the most of those qualities.

M16 Myogiryu (1–1) vs. M16 Aminishiki 0–2)—The first match of the day is mostly interesting to me because there’s a matta [false start], and the mics clearly pick up Myogiryu apologizing. “Ahhh .. gomen.” Very polite.  (0:10)
M10 Okinoumi (2–0) vs. M12 Arawashi (1–1)
—Two middle of the banzuke [ranking sheet] rikishi who turn in one of the most hard-fought, gutsy matches of the tournament so far. (3:45)
M3 Daieisho (0–2) vs. sekiwake Ichinojo (2–0)—Another match that gives strong evidence that Ichinojo has somehow at this late date learned how to be tenacious and not to just rely on his size. (11:40)
Sekiwake Tochinoshin (2–0) vs. M1 Tamawashi (0–2)—Tochinoshin is looking strong, but today he faces someone who is as big as he is, and nearly as strong. Tamawashi may be winless so far, but his losses have been to the two Yokozuna, so that’s to be expected. Today is the first match that he’s got a real chance to be competitive. (13:10)
Komusubi Endo (1–1) vs. ozeki Goeido (2–0)—Two rikishi with very big, very vocal fan clubs present in the audience. Definitely one of the bouts that today’s crowd was most excited for. (14:25)

SUMO: 2018 Natsu Basho (Day 2)

It’s Day 2 of the Natsu Basho, and the most unusual thing (compared to recent tournaments) is that nothing particularly unusual happened on Day 1. There weren’t any major upsets, all the sanyaku rikishi looked good, with only komusubi Endo notching a loss (but then, he was fighting yokozuna Kakuryu, so that was to be expected). 

Sekiwake Tochinoshin, who is trying to earn a promotion to ozeki, looked particularly strong, lifting M2 Shohozan off his feet and out of the ring to get win number one. There was some worry that Tochinoshin’s shoulder might be a bit injured, but that certainly didn’t seem to be the case (or at least it didn’t interfere with his exhibition of raw power sumo). 

Hakuho also looked good, this being his basho match since Day 4 in January. He’s still having to worry a bit about the Kyokai’s [Sumo Association’s] admonition about being less brutal at the tachi-ai [initial charge]. In 2017 Hakuho had developed a habit of hitting opponents hard with slaps to the face followed by shoulder thrusts to the jaw (which on more than one occasion knocked an opponent into near unconsciousness). There’s nothing illegal about these maneuvers, but they aren’t considered to be “classic sumo,” and the Kyokai often discourages yokozuna from being so brutal. Yesterday, Hakuho gave M1 Tamawashi a good slap to the head at the tachi-ai, but then moved into more standard pushing/thrusting sumo. 

Sekiwake Ichinojo lived up to the pre-basho hype and looked focused and enthusiastic. He has a long history of performing dull, plodding sumo and relying on his massive size to dominate his opponents. This, of course, rarely worked against the top-level rikishi, so Ichinojo has been languishing in the mid-Maegashira ranks for most of the last year or more. But last tournament he seemed to have a breakthrough and earned a promotion up to sumo’s third-highest rank. The hope is that he’ll continue that kind of performance this tournament, and begin to be a regular contender for the yusho [tournament championship].

M16 Aminishiki (0–1) vs. M15 Kyokutaisei (0–1)—After a basho down in Juryo, Aminishiki is back in the top division at the age of 39, making him the oldest rikishi ever to earn that promotion. His physical skills may be visibly diminishing, but his ring sense, cleverness, and overall sumo savvy remain as sharp as ever. Today he faces Kyokutaisei who at the age of 28 has just been promoted to Makuuchi for the first time in his career. (0:41)
M3 Yutakayama (0–1) vs. komusubi Endo (0–1)—Endo is at the highest rank of his career, breaking into the sanyaku ranks for the first time. He lost his match yesterday to yokozuna Kakuryu, but that’s to be expected. If he can beat his non-sanyaku opponents, he’ll collect a kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and stay up in these lofty ranks. Today is his first chance to make a move in that direction. (10:35)
Sekiwake Tochinoshin (1–0) vs. M2 Abi (0–1)—Tochinoshin is on the hunt for a promotion to ozeki. In order to do that, he’s got to rack up at least 11 wins, so I’ll be following him closely this basho as long as that dream is still alive. Today he faces one of the young phenoms, Abi, who has been 10–5 in both of his previous Makuuchi-level tournaments. (11:40)
Komusubi Mitakeumi (1–0) vs. Yokozuna Hakuho (1–0)—Another match that pits one of the best of the next-generation rikishi—Mitakeumi—against one of the best of the current generation. In this case, the very best of the generation (and perhaps all-time), Yokozuna Hakuho. (15:05)

SUMO: 2018 Natsu Basho (Day 1)

Welcome to the 2018 Natsu Basho [Summer Grand Sumo Tournament]! There are a lot of “storylines” going on this tournament, and lots of drama . . . and, of course, lots of sumo! Things are busy here in the Stannex, though, so I may not be quite as thorough in my commentary—you’ll just have to keep track of things yourselves. (Today is an exception to that as I “set the stage” for the tournament ahead.) I WILL be sure to post daily updates here and on Facebook, though, as long as Kintamayama continues to post his round-ups. (Remember, if you enjoy this, you really should consider leaving him a gratuity in his tip jar . . . he works his video-editing-butt off making these available so quickly every day!)

We start the tournament with two active yokozuna—Kakuryu, who won the March basho in Osaka, and Hakuho, who missed the whole March tournament because of injury. Hakuho has been dominant in the pre-tournament warm-up bouts . . . but Kintamayama seems to think he might still have a lingering injury. No one else in the sumo world is saying that, but it’s something to keep an eye on. Hakuho’s father passed away about six weeks ago, so word is he’s quietly dedicating this tournament to his memory. Kakuryu, on the other hand, looks about as good as he did in March . . . which is to say that his performance hangs on his mental focus. If he can avoid any Week 1 losses, he should be in the mix right down to the wire.

Not appearing again this basho is yokozuna Kisenosato, who is still struggling with injuries. He went on the jungyo [exhibition tour] in and looked lackluster in his performance. And since both he and the Kyokai [Sumo Association] have said that his next basho performance will determine whether or not he must retire, it makes sense for him to sit this one out. 

Also kyujo [absent due to injury] this basho is ozeki Takayasu (who is from the same sumo stable as Kisenosato) who injured his left shoulder at the end of the Osaka Basho and injured his right shoulder in practice last week. Sitting out is the right call for him, but it does mean that when he returns in July he’ll be kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion].

Sekiwake Tochinoshin, who won January’s Hatsu Basho, is on track to get a promotion to ozeki IF he turns in a good enough performance. What “good enough” is remains a little murky. Generally, a rikishi has to win 33 bouts over the course of three consecutive tournaments, and Tochinoshin has won 24 in the previous two. However, he was a rank-and-file rikishi in January, and so didn’t face top-notch competition . . . so the Kyokai has said that he needs to put in a “convincing performance” in order to get promoted. Most pundits think that means at least 11 wins, with at least one win over a yokozuna or ozeki. In interviews, Tochinoshin has said that reaching ozeki is one of his career dreams, and he knows this might be his last shot at it. Unfortunately, he suffered some kind of minor shoulder injury last week, so there’s no telling exactly how fit he really is.

The other sekiwake, Ichinojo, is looking better than he EVER has in his career. During pre-tournament matches he had a three-day run of 24–0 and is said to be moving faster and more convincingly, despite having bulked up to 225 kg (496 lbs). It’s certainly true that the determined Ichinojo we saw in Osaka was markedly improved over the lazy slug he’s been for the past three years. If he continues that type of performance, he is going to be a force to be reckoned with.

Crowd favorite Endo has finally managed to get promoted to the sanyaku ranks, and will be a komusubi this tournament. For the past few years he’s struggled to both bulk up to a size that will let him compete at the top of the banzuke [ranking sheet] and still maintain his quick, skill-based style of sumo. But based on his performance so far this year he seems to have solved that problem. It’s a tough time to be debuting at this rank, though. All the other sanyaku rikishi are strong and figure to contend for the yusho, and he’ll have to face just about all of them in Week 1 (that’s what makes komusubi such a tough rank). If he can manage to get one or two wins out of those six matches, then he’ll “only” have to win 66% of his matches against Maegashira-ranked opponents. If he can’t get those high-level wins, he’ll have to win 8 out of 9 Maegashira bouts in order to get kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and hold on to his sanyaku rank.

M16 Mygiryu vs. M17 Kyokutaisei—Myogiryu is back from having spent three of the last five basho down in Juryo (where he won the divisional yusho [tournament championship] in January). He’d much rather stay up here in Makuuchi, though, which means he’s going to have to do better than the 6–9 record he amassed in May. Meanwhile, this is Kyokutaisei’s debut tournament in Makuuchi, and he’s looking to impress. (0:45)
M2 Abi vs. sekiwake Ichinojo—Abi is fighting from the highest rank in his young career (this is only his third tournament in the top division . . . but he’s had double-digit wins in both the others). He’ll certainly be seeing a new level of competition this time, and will probably end up facing yokozuna and ozeki opponents for the first time before we get to senshuraku [the final day]. This match gives us a good chance to see whether Ichinojo looks likely to live up to the hype that’s been flying around him in the pre-basho warm-ups. (9:50)
Sekiwake Tochinoshin vs. M2 Shohozan—Tochinoshin needs eleven wins to secure a promotion to ozeki, and that means needing to run the table against all Maegashira-ranked opponents. He’s 10–3 lifetime against Shohozan, so this is a good way to start this campaign. (10:40)
M1 Tamawashi vs. yokozuna Hakuho—Hakuho is back for the first time since Day 4 of the January tournament. Word is that he’s looking strong and has a personal motivation to win this basho. Will we see the dominant Hakuho of the last few years, or is he still nursing one of the injuries that sidelined him for four months? (12:40)
Yokozuna Kakuryu vs. komusubi Endo—Kakuryu wants to get back-to-back yusho for the first time in his career. (He got promoted to yokozuna after a 14–1 second-place finish and a 14–1 yusho.) With Hakuho back in the mix, that will be a tall order, but before he worries about that he has to eliminate all the lesser opponents in his way. Historically, it’s in Week 1 that Kakuryu has mental lapses and suffers upset losses. If he can get through that, he can start worrying about Hakuho. Today he faces Endo, in his first ever match as a sanyaku-ranked rikishi (a real baptism of fire). (14:10)